Posted in the summer of 2009 on Officer.com, in her article "Street Smart vs. Book Smart," Michelle Perin writes that in 1973, the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals requested a national minimum education level of at least a four-year college degree.
"While the number of officers that have degrees today is not firmly known," says Louis Mayo, executive director of the Police Association for College Education (PACE), "it is estimated between 25 and 30 percent of police officers today have a Bachelor of Arts degree or higher."
A common situation for many working officers is a difficulty to attend class with an unstable schedule, leaving the online option. Questions can quickly outnumber the answers — leaving a blank cursor blinking on your favorite search engine.
"I guess you really need to start by understanding there is a difference between training and education," explains Kim Clay, dean of the College of Safety and Emergency Services at Columbia Southern University (CSU). He sees training as more of a hands-on learning experience while education leans more toward the theory-based elements.
Recognition for your work
Understanding the working law enforcement officer has gone through a number of hours of training, universities do make the appropriate accommodations. A number of credit hours for a degree can be credited pending approval of the university. CSU, for example, allows an officer or deputy to "bring in" 21 hours of college credit toward a bachelor's program and 12 towards an associate degree. Similarly, Liberty University Online (LUO), a Christian-based institution, offers its officers credit taking life experiences into account.
"We do what we can to maximize their transfer credit," says Wendy Morales, director of Online Marking for LUO. "This essentially minimizes the amount of tuition they are going to have to pay and helps someone graduate that much faster."
She explains that a student who has gone through basic law enforcement training can receive up to 14 credits automatically, while any federal law enforcement training can earn additional credits. Morales adds that additional credits are awarded to U.S. Border Patrol agents.
Constance St. Germain-Driscoll, director of the Criminal Justice and Legal Studies of the American Public University System (APUS), explains how the university's credit transfer works: "The credit transfer service looks at their work so a student can submit, for example, any certificates of courses they've taken or any programs they've been through. APUS also has a number of articulation agreements with police academies, so when they finish training there, we know that the student has already earned a certain number of credits toward their degree."
In perspective, a full bachelor's degree and associate degree are typically around 120 and 60 credits respectively, much the same as a traditional brick-and-mortar university.
Dispelling any notions that an online program may be "easier," Harvey Hedden, executive director of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), says that "you're probably going to do more work on your own than you will in a classroom where it's more of a directed lecture. An online program that has you seek out information, in some cases, helps you learn."
He continues, "The biggest benefit from an online program is scheduling." Officers will be able to work on their classes around their rotating shifts, court days or special duties. Online programs look to get around losing instructor interaction by providing times when students can interact with their instructor and classmates online, or via telephone and instant messages.
"I know there are even some that offer video conferencing, and thereby provide more interaction with a student where they might need assistance," says Hedden.